Monday, May 31, 2010


Dempster Highway Southbound


We completed the round trip on the Dempster Highway today and are back in Dawson City, YT after spending the night 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Inuvik, The Northwest Territories. It was our first night in which the sun never set. At 1am it was as much daylight outside as it had been at 8pm. Amazing! There are so many things to include regarding the last 24 hours, so we’ll try (but probably fail) to keep it to just the “headlines”.



Inuvik is a “new town”. About 15 years ago the former village was flooded out by the MacKenzie River, so the Government of The Northwest Territories built this new town, relocating the residents from the previous town. It looks new, with little difference in architecture between the government buildings and multi-family residences. The only unique structure in town is the “Igloo Church”. Have we mentioned that place names up here are VERY literal?


Flat Tires

470 miles of gravel road, each way, tends to take its toll on tires. The Dempster is famous for causing flats, and travelers are advised to carry two spares. On the recommendation of our friend Reed Griffith, Bob bought new 10-ply tires for the truck in preparation for this trip. This morning we woke to find a flat tire, so the first order of business was to find the Speedy Auto Store in Inuvik. We felt lucky we only had one flat, and it happened in town where Bob didn’t even have to get his hands dirty. When we got back to Dawson City, we ended up camped next to a couple we’d met yesterday at the Arctic Circle where they were changing a tire. They had a total of 3 flats and one blow-out while on the Dempster. They too bought new tires before leaving home, but 4-ply. Thanks for the recommendation Reed!

Cultural Change


While we were hanging around the Speedy Auto Store getting the tire changed, Cathryn struck up a conversation with the young man performing the tire repair. He had the appearance of a First Nation citizen, and she asked if he’d always lived in Inuvik. He said he was born and raised in the village of Tuktoyaktuk (called “Tuk” for short) and moved to Inuvik 5 years ago. She asked which town he preferred, and he got a sad look on his face and said he only came to Inuvik for the job, and really missed his family and home, but no full-time employment was available in Tuk. This conversation reminded us of similar sentiments we heard from Mexicans in Baja who lived i n small villages and worked as farmers or fishermen, but there were no high schools in town, so their children went to the larger cities of La Paz, Cabo San Lucas or others, and never returned to the small town to work in the family business. Instead, they became waiters or other entry-level workers in the city’s service industry. All over the world, this sort of change is occurring, with young people leaving villages and towns, and going to big cities to become “wage slaves” (as the rest of us Big City residents have long ago done), and not returning to their families, and losing the survival skills they once had. We can’t help but wonder whether this constitutes “progress”.



We looked for wildlife on the Dempster both north and southbound. On the way up we saw two grizzlies in the distance and attempted to get photos, but the distance was too great, and we couldn’t get a clear shot. Today we passed the same spot, and lo and behold, there they were again, except this time even closer to the road. At the gas station a few miles later, Cathryn got into a conversation with the attendant, and he explained that Grizzlies come in all colors: brown, cinnamon, blonde and off-white. He said the larger brown male (see photo) has been in the vicinity for quite a few years, and the off-white female joined him several years ago. She had two cubs with her, but this season “they became two-year-olds, so she sent them off to live on their own, and is probably busy making new cubs with this old guy”. (Gosh, I wish we humans had that option, occasionally, to send our terrible-two-year-olds off on their own!)

Dall Sheep


This is another theoretically common animal on the Dempster which we didn’t see yesterday. But guess what? Today we saw these three females, right where the book said they would be!

Fire Update


Headed south on the last third of the Dempster, the air became thick with smoke. So thick, in fact, that the sun was almost obscured, and the temperature dropped 25 degrees, from 74 at the Arctic Circle to 50! Mountains that had been completely clear yesterday were barely visible. Luckily, by the time we got back to Dawson City, conditions had much improved. Only later did we hear there was a large fire along the Dempster, which we never saw, and that the road will likely be closed today. We’re glad we didn’t get stuck up there!

Gas Prices

We’ve been paying pretty close to $4.00 a gallon for gas in British Columbia and Yukon Territory, but the trip up the Klondike and Dempster set a new standard. Here in Dawson City it’s almost $5.00 a gallon and we paid $5.40 in Inuvik.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

More Assumptions Obliterated

What do you think the land north of the Arctic Circle looks like? What sort of weather would you expect to find there? What are the images you have in mind? Whatever the answers, unless you’ve been here before, or seen lots of pictures, it’s likely you’re as far off base as we were!

We pulled out of Dawson City in the truck at 8am, having left the trailer behind because of all we’d heard about this treacherous road, The Dempster Highway. Six kilometers after turning off the Alaska Highway, the paved road ends, and from there it’s 475 miles of gravel, one way. We’d been told to expect to see lots of wildlife, and to prepare for the road conditions by carrying at least one, preferably two spare tires, extra food and water, a shovel, blanket, flashlight, and possibly a spare gas can as fuel is only available at two places the entire length of the road.IMG_2810

The first segment of the trip winds through the Tombstone Mountains, which are craggy, snow-capped and vast, and separated by gorgeous heavily-treed valleys, with the morning light (or would that be the all-night-light??) casting beautiful colors over the entire panorama. From there, the mountains recede into the distance, and rivers wind through the terrain (Yukon, Red, Mackenzie and Peel Rivers). We crossed the Continental Divide three times, and thus found the river flows confusing, as “downstream” kept switching directions on us, depending whether it was flowing into the Beaufort Sea or the Bering Sea. Caribou are supposedly prolific, but it turns out that’s only true from September to April, and this time of year they’re already north at the Beaufort Sea, so we didn’t see any. Instead we saw rabbits, rabbits and more rabbits – and two grizzly bears (our first!) sleeping curled up together about 100 yards off the road on the tundra, one white-ish and one brown. That was it for the wildlife, much to our surprise. IMG_2821

There’s no traffic on the Dempster Highway. That’s not entirely a true statement: we did count (and tallied each) 44 vehicles for the day, which works out to one vehicle every 10 miles the full length of the road. Each time a vehicle approached, we slowed and pulled to the right side of the road to reduce the likelihood of a cracked windshield. As a result, we have one small rock chip and hope it won’t spread.


We did, in fact, meet one couple who were busy changing their second flat tire, and they were only halfway through the southbound leg of their journey. Their first flat was actually a blow-out, the second a simple flat. We met them at the Arctic Circle mark.

The “spaces” in this area are vast. It all looks big, as if it goes on forever. But there are many more trees and IMG_2841 shrubs, though much sparser and smaller than we expected, both deciduous and evergreen, including black and white spruce, birch and larch. The permafrost and tundra don’t look as unusual as we expected – more like brown, lumpy, damp land, not ice. We didn’t walk on it today, but plan to do so tomorrow.


The 479 mile road has only two real “places” along the way: Eagle Plain and McPherson. The former is not a town, just a small collection of buildings that includes a gas station, small utilitarian-looking motel, mechanic’s shop, and a tiny restaurant. McPherson is a more substantial, but still very small town that we didn’t go into as we didn’t need gas.

The highway is built on top of permafrost, an engineering challenge that has been met quite successfully in our view. The roadway is built up about 10 feet above the surrounding land in order to provide insulation to the permafrost underneath it, because if the permafrost were to melt, as the surrounding land does to a certain depth in the summer, it would destroy the road every year. As a result, the gravel roadway is astonishingly well-graded, mostly pothole free, and smooth. A few short segments had us traveling only 35-40 mph, especially on curved segments, but most of the way we went 50-55 mph, and the last 100 miles was in such great shape we moved along at 60-65 mph.


The final characteristic of interest is that this roadway is entirely gravel this time of year, but is kept open through the winter as an Ice Highway – literally the road is ice, including the two stretches that cross the Peel River and the Mackenzie/Red River confluence. Drivers travel on the frozen river. For a brief period in the spring when the river ice is in the process of breaking up, and again in the fall when it is freezing over, the river is not passable, and the communities north are cut off except by air. During the summer months between freeze and thaw, a government-operated free ferry travels back and forth from shore to shore and transports vehicles. We took both these ferries today and found it interesting.


We arrived at the town of Inuvik 11 hours after leaving Dawson City, surprised to find it was SUNNY AND 72 DEGREES!!! We were tired and hungry, and noted Inuvik is a more substantial and modern town than we expected. We’re staying in a motel that looks like any Comfort Inn & Suites you’d find in the U.S., and it even has internet!

Tomorrow we tour the town of Inuvik, then head south.

Good Decision

Yesterday when we were considering whether to make the side trip up the Dempster Highway above the Arctic Circle, one of the factors influencing us was being told a forest fire was raging 150 miles away near Tok, Alaska. Tok was our next destination, and the fire was producing enough smoke that they were escorting cars across the Top of the World Highway and thinking about closing it entirely. Since this highway was our route, our alternative was  to repeat our all day trip back to Whitehorse and then spend a second day to getting to Tok on the Alaska Highway instead.


We haven’t got an official report yet today, but a look out the window suggests we made a good decision.  The haze you see in the picture is smoke, and the odor is strong. We suspect the road is, in fact, closed, and if not, that the views from the Top of the World Highway will be greatly compromised.

Hopefully in a couple of days when we get back, things will have cleared up and we can proceed across the Top of the World.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hello Frost Heave and Wildlife “Lite”


We’ve gotten spoiled to this point.  The roads have been so good, and the wildlife so prolific, that we actually found today a little disappointing.  We “only” saw 1 coyote, 2 black bears and 1 swan the whole day. We left the Alaska Highway just outside Whitehorse, YT and turned north on the Klondike Highway. For 6 hours and 350 miles we traveled on an often very bumpy  due to frost heave, sometimes pot-holed, sometimes gravel road that was the least predictable surface we’ve been subject to yet.  It’s not that it was so awful – logging highways back home are sometimes worse when we go hiking.  But it was a change from what we’ve experienced the last 2,000 miles.  And furthermore, the scenery was less interesting.  We had hills instead of mountains, none snow-capped, broad plains, and very small trees with little variation in type. Much of the area was severely burned more than 50 years ago, and the devastation is still quite apparent, in part because the growth since then has been sparse and small. We attribute this to the short growing season this far north, but that’s just a guess. 


Nonetheless, it was a blue sky, warm day with temperatures topping 80 degrees by the time we arrived in Dawson City, YT. We spent the afternoon in town wandering the boardwalks, looking at 100-year-old buildings from the Gold Rush era, and were disappointed the First Nation (what Canadians call the folks we call Native Americans in the U.S.) Cultural Center hasn’t yet opened for the season (June 1).  Dawson City is very tiny, as are all the cities this far north, with only 1,500 residents.


Tomorrow we take off for another previously unplanned modification to the itinerary. The Dempster Highway leaves the Klondike Highway a little east of Dawson City where we are now, and travels north 460 miles into the Northwest Territories, crossing the Continental Divide 3 times, and passing into the Arctic Circle, ending at the village of Inuvik, inhabited by First Nation and Eskimo folks.  We don’t know, but presume internet will be somewhere between scarce and non-existent on this leg.  We’re leaving our trailer at Dawson City and will stay in motels 2 nights, and it’s possible we won’t post to the blog again until we return Tuesday night. Those of you who receive our SPOT satellite messages will, of course hear from us, and anyone else wanting to see where we are can click on the “Spot Us” tab under the header photo on the blog – double click on it then follow the link which will show any SPOT messages we’ve sent in the previous 7 days.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Northern Latitudes


It’s 4 weeks yet until the summer solstice, bringing the longest day of the year.  And yet, here’s a photo of our campground in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory taken at 10pm before the sun has yet set. We don’t actually know when it gets dark, but we’ve been awake at 11pm and also at 3:30 am, and know it’s daylight still at those hours.

Yukon Territory, Third Time

We left Skagway, Alaska this morning and re-entered the Yukon Territory for the third time. Crazy geography and political boundaries up here!  This is our last stretch in the YT before we spend more than two straight weeks in Alaska.  We drove only 3 hours to Whitehorse, the largest city in the YT and settled in at a nice campground that is more than a gravel parking lot – it has trees separating each space – lodge pole pines and some deciduous trees we don’t recognize.  We passed the afternoon in and around Whitehorse. 


We spent an hour touring the S. S. Klondike, a 250-foot stern wheel river boat that plied the waters of the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City for 26 years until 1955, along with more than 200 other paddle wheelers which provided the only transportation in this area before there were roads. Commercial freight and vacationing passengers were both carried on the Klondike, along with thousands of cords of wood to feed the steam engines with another log every 30 seconds round the clock. The journey took 1 ½ days going downstream, 4 ½ days upstream. 


Later in the afternoon we drove out to Miles Canyon for a trail walk and unexpectedly watched more than a dozen older teenage boys goading each other into jumping off a suspension bridge 50+ feet above the water. We were surprised they were behaving intelligently enough that 4 of the 6 who ultimately jumped wore life vests. The water had to be freezing cold as it is snow melt, and ran swiftly through the canyon with steep walls that made it difficult to clamber back out of the water. Note the young man doing a back flip in the middle of the photo below.


We were not even mildly tempted to engage in such rash behavior, though we have at least two children and one son-in-law who we suspect would do it in a heartbeat. (They’re the ones under age 25, whose brains have not matured to the point they fully understand risk. Hey, this is scientific research, not just parents talking!)

Lastly, an observation: the people here in the northern segments of North America, as we get to know more about them, seem increasingly different to us from folks from the lower 48  in the U.S. in some ways we admire, even if we can’t imagine living their lifestyle.  They’re much more “outdoorsy” and active, appear quite a bit healthier and slimmer (on average), have great sprits of adventure, travel much more than most folks from the U.S., and tend to have jobs/careers that would seem “odd” to lots of folks from the U.S.  Most of the ones we’ve met have jobs with a seasonal component dictated by the harsh winters – logging, fishing and tourism. They seem to work extraordinary hours – 80 to 90 per week – during the 5-to-6-month work season of May through September or October, then work much less or not at all during the other half of the year. They often travel to warmer climates, especially south of the equator, during the winter months, even if only for a month. Exceptions to this lifestyle include government workers and those in the teaching or health professions, or those who run businesses catering to a local population, but these are in the minority. These folks seem much more “connected” to the variables and vagaries of Nature and know how to survive with much less modern, mechanized support than the typical urban dweller in the U.S.   We admire their independent spirits, hard work, and do-it-yourself capabilities.

Draft trying something new

Ho, Hum 90 Miles on the Lynn Canal

We’re starting to feel redundant.  How many times can we describe scenery as  “spectacular”, “beautiful”, “amazing”, “incredible” and “astonishing” before our readers simply roll their eyes and accuse us of having Diarrhea of the Superlatives?


But today was another one of those days. At 8:00 am we boarded “The Fjordland”, a 65-foot fast-hulled catamaran to travel south on the waters of Lynn Canal, 90 miles out of Skagway to Juneau. There were 8 passengers on board, plus Glen the Captain, and Jim the Deckhand, and we picked up 7 more passengers in Haines, 45 minutes later. The sky was clear blue with a temperature of 60, and by this afternoon it hit 80 degrees. Captain Glen was incredibly accommodating to the interests of his passengers.


He pointed out dozens of eagles along the shoreline; stopped the boat for 10 minutes at a harbor seal rookery and explained about mating, the pups, and how to tell males from females; stopped at another rocky shoreline to allow us to photograph hundreds of enormous stellar sea lions; pointed out more than a dozen humpback whales and slowed or circled wide around each one to allow for photographs; tracked a school of 7-8 dalls porpoises briefly until they swam alongside the boat and began surfing in our wake; and identified other migrating birds.


We traveled at 27 knots through the narrow canal bordered by the Coast Range to the east, and the Chilkat Mountains to the west. The mountains rose precipitously to over 5,000 feet, straight out of the water, with the tree line stopping between 2,000 and 3,0000 feet. Today’s tide change was 23 feet (at latitude 58 degrees north), meaning there was a whopping 4-foot increase in water level every hour from low to high! There was a light wind and only occasional white caps the second half of the southbound trip, none northbound.


At 11:00 we docked north of Juneau where a bus met us to transport us into downtown. We unloaded and were told to be back at the bus 4 hours later. We had lunch at “The Hangar” right on the waterfront – a former airplane hangar from the days when the only access to Juneau was by boat or seaplane and the airport was on the downtown waterfront. Bob had halibut fish and chips, Cathryn had a halibut burger, and we could certainly tell the halibut was fresh! We walked around town and noted that like Ketchikan where we visited last August, and probably most other waterfront towns in southeastern Alaska, the topography of the town is extremely steep, with streets that make the Queen Anne Counterbalance in Seattle look like a railroad grade, and many residential areas that are accessible by walking staircases with 100, 200 or 300 steps to get to the neighborhood. Juneau only had two “small” cruise ships in port today, so wasn’t nearly as crowded as Skagway, which has had 4 huge ships in port each day since we arrived.

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At 3:15 we re-boarded the bus and were transported to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center. We took a 1-mile hike to the base of a gigantic waterfall immediately adjacent to the glacier along with Tanya, one of our boat-mates who is a Medi-Vac pilot from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. This was our first time seeing icebergs, and we apparently just missed seeing the glacier calve yesterday. We can’t resist stating how spectacular this was!


The bus took us back to the dock north of town, and we meandered north on the canal back to Haines, dropping off half the passengers, then to Skagway where we disembarked at 8:30 pm. It was a long day, but wonderful and memorable, and we are so grateful to Galline and Alexsander, the Russian couple we met 3 days ago at Atlin who urged us to make this trip. It was worth every penny and then some.


Tomorrow we head north again, back into the Yukon Territory for a couple days before we finally enter the “main” part of Alaska where we’ll spend the next couple of weeks. We continue to be happy and well, and greatly enjoying this trip.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day in Skagway

So far Alaska is certainly defying our expectations weather-wise. We keep getting emails from folks back home near Seattle complaining about the cool temperatures and rain. We were told by experienced Alaska travelers not to bother bringing more than one pair of shorts as we wouldn’t need them at all, most likely. And all the Alaska tour books advise “dressing in layers and bringing rain gear”. Well, yesterday on arrival in Skagway it was sunny and 72 degrees. Today it was sunny and 83! Yes, Bob wore his one pair of shorts, and Cathryn wore capris and flip-flops, both in short-sleeved t-shirts for walking around town. We sat on a bench adjacent to the harbor for more than an hour people-watching and enjoying the majestic mountain scenery. Cathryn got a faint sunburn on her nose and chest. We brought loads of mosquito repellent which we haven’t used yet. And not much sunscreen which we should have used today. The forecast calls for more of the same. What month is it, and what state are we in????

Cathryn went for a run through beautiful scenery this morning, and Bob attended a National Park Services ranger presentation which turned out to be on a different topic than advertised, so was disappointing to him. We’ve enjoyed our time in Skagway and move on to Juneau tomorrow, by boat.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More Llewellyn Glacier

For those who can’t resist seeing more of Bob’s pictures, he’s uploaded a set of 30 photos of our flight over the Llewellyn Glacier. If you go to the tab at the top of these pages that says “Slide Shows”, then double click, then click on the file called “Llewellyn Glacier”, you’ll find them. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On To Skagway, Alaska

We left Atlin this morning at 8am after completing the RV-ers favorite activity: a trip to the sani-dump. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to avoid thinking about details of this aspect of life. We’ll spare you the photo, but in this remote town the facilities were unusually basic, even more so than any we saw in Mexico: nothing but a short pipe leading to a wooden trough which fed into an open sewage lagoon that looked and smelled like a most unusual “pond”. About 50 feet from the RV pipe was a much larger version of the same, used by the commercial guys who pump out the septic tanks of local residents. Basic. Exceptionally basic, to our sensibilities.


We retraced our steps north 60 miles to the Alaska Highway. We have to say the gravel roads up here, so far anyway, are nothing like we expected. They’re very well-graded and there isn’t a lot of loose rock flying around. Maybe it’s just early in the season when it’s all been newly graded and it will get worse later? After re-joining the Alaska Highway we traveled southwest 80 miles to Skagway, Alaska after passing through some of the most beautiful mountains we’ve seen so far.


During today’s journey we passed from British Columbia where Atlin is located, into the Yukon Territory, back into British Columbia again, then crossed the international border into the U.S just short of Skagway. The border crossing took less than 5 minutes with only a few basic questions. The road the last 5 miles to the border was a steep descent of 8% and higher. By the time we got to the border crossing our brakes were hot. We imagine one of the worst aspects of working that Border Crossing is smelling all the hot brakes.


We arrived in Skagway at 11am after gaining an hour, shifting to Alaska Time. We’re staying in an RV park with very slow wi-fi and full hooks ups. They even let us wash our rig right at our site, and boy did it ever need it after the last few days on wet gravel roads!

We wandered through downtown Skagway this afternoon on foot. It was absolutely packed with folks from four, yes FOUR cruise ships in port. Upwards of 10,000 tourists can have an overwhelming impact on a town with 400 permanent residents. We think we’ll go back to town this evening after the boats have left and walk around to find a saloon for a beer, something we did in Ketchikan on our Inside Passage trip last summer and found fascinating.

We did see a poster (see photo below) we found interesting. If any of you would like any of the products mentioned, please let us know. You can send us a private email to avoid having our other readers know about your purchase. We promise we’ll deliver it to you discretely when we see you next. Phebe and Lynn: we’ve already picked out your birthday presents! Of course you can probably get all of this, and more, on the internet.


A Day to Relax

While it wasn’t a great day in terms of wildlife sightings or covering scenic mileage, given our mental and physical states, today was truly perfect. First off, the unthinkable happened. We slept 9 hours last night! This is extraordinary in the context of the incredibly long daylight hours this far north. When we went to bed last night at 10:30 pm, it was still very light outside. We’ve been re-taping sheets of aluminum foil to our bedroom windows each night, which turns the bed area into a fairly dark spot, but the rest of the trailer is very bright all the hours we’re awake, and many of those we sleep. If we wake at 3:30 a.m., it’s already light again. This has contributed to our waking at 4:30 or 5:30 a.m. every morning since we left home. One unanticipated benefit of the very long daylight hours is that we almost never use lights in the trailer, so even if we’re camped without electric hook-ups, there’s never an issue with our 100-watt solar panel providing adequate power.

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Today we went for a drive down the Warm Bay Road south out of Atlin, about 20 kilometers on a well-graded gravel road that took us to Palmer Lake where we saw a loon and enormous swan, Warm Springs (small pools of warm, not hot, water) and The Grotto, which we have no idea from where it took its’ name as there were no caves in evidence. Next we took a walk around Atlin, checking out the historic landmarks and touring the Pioneer Cemetery. We now understand why the incidence of cancer is so much on the increase in the developed world, as most of the people buried in this cemetery died as infants or adults in their 20s, 30s or 40s from things like accidental gunshot wounds (being mistaken for a bear), drowning, starvation or mining accidents, according to the information on their tombstones. Finally, we briefly cruised town with our laptop turned on until we stumbled across a spot where we picked up an unsecured internet signal.

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And a final note about the Yukon Territory. The entire population of this vast province, which is bordered by the Beaufort Sea to the north, the Northwest Territories to the east, and Alaska to the west, is only 34,000 people. More than 25,000 of them live in Whitehorse, the government seat. There are only 2 towns with close to 2,000 residents (Dawson City and Watson Lake), and the remainder of the towns number under 1,000 residents, often double-digit numbers. There are 93 named towns with fewer than 50 year-round residents.     IMG_2612    

       A View From the Trailer 9 PM

So the activities of today, in this gorgeous, scenic, quiet town, were just what we needed. We’ve sorted out our new itinerary for the next few days and head to Skagway tomorrow.

Monday, May 24, 2010



It always happens eventually. We just never know how long it will take. Well, today was the day “The Itinerary” went out the window!

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This morning in Watson Lake, Yukon Territory (YT) we toured the world famous Sign Post Forest. The “forest” was begun in 1942 by a homesick U.S. army G.I. who, while working on Alaska Highway construction, erected a sign pointing the way and stating the mileage to his hometown in Danville, Illinois. Others followed his lead and are still doing so today. The forest occupies about an acre of land and now has over 69,000 signs from all around the world. The Town of Watson Lake maintains the site, erecting more posts for additional signs as needed. We stopped at the Visitors Center to collect maps and booklets, and watched a 30-minutemovie about construction of the Alaska Highway, built over 8 months in 1942 in order to provide a land route from the U.S. lower 48 to Alaska following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in order to strengthen the U.S. defensive capability in the Pacific.


On leaving Watson Lake we headed for Whitehorse, the largest city in the YT, our destination for the night. After getting gas at Johnson’s Crossing, we discussed an email we received recently from our new friend Gene Shea who is doing Camp Host duty on the Kenai Peninsula this summer. He mentioned the upcoming Memorial Day weekend is the biggest of the whole summer, and their campground will have 100+ RVs in it, instead of the usual 6-12 they’ve had the past week. Apparently “all of Anchorage” empties out for the long weekend, and most head for the Kenai to enjoy the 19+ hours of daylight now available. We quickly calculated that “The Itinerary” would have us on the Kenai for Memorial Day weekend, and we didn’t want to be there until just after, because of the crowds. Twenty minutes later, following a rushed study of our maps and books, we veered off the Alaska Highway to head south to Atlin, a place we’d never heard of before. This took us on a 40-mile gravel, but extremely well graded, road that meandered across the Yukon boundary back into British Columbia. The geography in this vicinity is confusing at times, as we’ve criss-crossed in and out of Alaska, British Columbia and The Yukon Territory more times than we can count in the past 3 days – the highways simply aren’t constrained by provincial or national boundaries.

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We arrived at the tiny town of Atlin on the shores of Lake Atlin at 4:00, and hadn’t even finished parking our truck and trailer when a couple from South Dakota two sites away mentioned they’d been hoping to take an air tour of the nearby glaciers, but the cost was prohibitive for only two people, and by any chance were we interested in splitting the cost? We enthusiastically agreed we’d love to, then learned they were leaving for Skagway at 7am tomorrow! Jillian jumped up and called the air tour pilot on the payphone at the campground, and he arrived 20 minutes later to take us flying!

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Chris, the pilot, has a tiny office and floating dock for his seaplane immediately adjacent to the Norseman Adventures RV Park where we’re staying. Chris, Jillian, Larry, Bob and I climbed into Chris’s 8-passenger de Havilland Beaver, donned headphones to allow us to talk over the noise of the seaplane, and took off under sunny, blue skies over the turquoise waters of the lake. The next hour and 15 minutes was spent cruising southwest over the lake, adjacent mountains, and Llewellyn Glacier. We reached 7,000’ elevation to top the mountains and flew as low as 30 feet above the glacier and its’ many crevasses. The Llewellyn snowfield, according to Chris, is about the size of Switzerland, one of the largest snowfields in the world. We saw a dozen mountain goats on the rocky slopes of the mountain, many brilliant turquoise lakes, and deep blue crevasses. The weather could not have been more perfect, and the flight was truly spectacular. We couldn’t believe we lucked into such an experience!

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After the flight we sat outside with Jillian and Larry, as well as our only other neighbors here at the campground, Alexsander and Galine, who emigrated from Russia to Canada in 1992 and now live in Whitehorse, YT. Alexsander was a cardiac surgeon in Russia and worked as an ultrasound tech after arriving here. He and Galline now own a bridal shop in Whitehorse. Not surprisingly, we had interesting conversations about geo-politics, emigration and immigration, and the importance of world citizens knowing languages beyond the one they learned from birth. All 4 of these neighbors will pull up stakes and leave tomorrow, leaving us as solo campers here at Atlin unless there are new arrivals, less likely on a Monday.

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After so many long days of driving, we’re ready for a break, so plan to stay here at Atlin all of tomorrow and a second night. Our campsite only 30 feet from the water has exquisite mountain views, and electric and water hook-ups, but no cell coverage or internet anywhere in town. Our itinerary is now up in the air, and we’ll sort that out tomorrow.

Wildlife count for the day: 1 red fox, 1 black bear, 2 moose, 12 mountain goats.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Not All Parts of Travel Are Scenic

Those of you who travel in RVs know the reason we do it is not the fabulous RV parks along the way. We much prefer local, state or national park campgrounds, or boon docking locations for their privacy and scenic qualities, but because we suffer from severe IAD, we end up staying in RV parks about half the time. What’s IAD? Internet Addiction Disorder, of course! When we change phone plans this summer we’ll probably get at least one smart phone to use as a tether for our laptops to give us internet access without being dependent on someone else’s signal. These two-year contracts with cell phone providers just don’t acknowledge that the technology changes so fast you can’t keep the same system and technology for that length of time. But in the mean time, here we are.


Our camping book says this RV park is the best in Watson Lake, because it at least has trees around the edge, and it’s located across the street from the “Sign Forest” (more on this later, and the Yukon Territory visitor center, two of the must sees while here.) As you can see it is nothing more than a gravel lot. It does have full hook ups including laundry, which we needed, and internet which we HAD to have. It was fine for an overnight but …..

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Into The Wild!


We pulled out of Stewart, B.C. at 8:30 a.m. and headed back up Highway 37A to re-join the Cassiar Highway. Within 5 miles, we saw our first bear! It was a lone black bear walking in the river adjacent to the road. We watched, took some photos and continued on. Believe it or not, a similar scene played out SIX more times today, resulting in our seeing 7 lone black bear mostly right on the shoulder. Each time they became unhappy at seeing us and hustled into the trees.IMG_2407

The most noteworthy bear-sighting occurred a couple hours into the day as we rounded a curve and saw two bicyclists on the right shoulder, waving their arms at us, requesting that we slow down to talk. We spotted TWO black bears 100 feet ahead on the opposite shoulder. Turns out the bikers were, understandably, not willing to bicycle past the bears and wanted our help. They asked us if we’d drive very slowly between them and the bears while they pedaled past to safety. Bob suggested we unlock our trailer door so if the bears decided to go after them, the bikers could drop their bikes and jump in the trailer to safety. Just as we began to drive toward the bears, they crossed the road directly toward the bikers! The bikers dropped back, passed behind our trailer and moved to the other side of us. After that, it was uneventful. The bikers pedaled furiously on, and we stayed with them until they were well beyond the bears, at which point they yelled thank you and waved good-bye. They had Swiss flags stitched on the sides of their panniers, so presumably that’s where they’re from. Since we saw many more bears further along the road, we imagine they may face similar circumstances repeatedly.


We also saw our second moose of the trip today, again directly on the shoulder of the road, and a lone female. She was immediately disturbed by our presence and fled into the trees.IMG_2421

And then there were the mountains! This morning was sunny and beautiful, and the huge mountains rose well above the tree line and were topped with gleaming snow. It went on for miles and miles as a backdrop to the spruce, birch and fir trees and many, many lakes. The further north we went the less snow, smaller trees and more ice-covered lakes we saw. IMG_2445

And finally there was the road itself. The southern half of the Cassiar Highway was a high-quality, well-paved road with a yellow-painted centerline, white fog lines on the shoulder, good sight distances and smooth surface. The northern half of the highway was quite the contrast – few shoulders, no yellow center or fog lines, much narrower, very bumpy with frost heave and often pot-holed, sometimes gravel for miles at a time (no pavement), and poor sight distances. One of the oddities of northern BC highways are the little “Slow” signs stuck in the gravel along the road. Though trial and error we learned that these signs don’t mean, slow ahead. They mean slow NOW! Usually there is a patch of gravel or a large pot hole immediately adjacent to the sign.

Needless to say, we made better time in the morning than the afternoon, often slowing to 20-30 mph on the northern segment. But the scenery throughout remained very different from “back home”, beautiful and a pleasure to see. There was very little traffic the entire length of the Cassiar, sometimes 5-10 miles between vehicles, no garbage whatsoever, and lots of simple rest areas, litter barrels and pull-outs.

We arrived at Iskut, our intended overnight destination at 1:00 p.m., and because we’d taken a day off from driving yesterday, weren’t ready to stop, especially as there was nothing to do there in the tiny wide spot in the road.


We continued on and eventually arrived at Watson Lake about 5:30 p.m., shortly after crossing the line from British Columbia into The Yukon Territory. This is where we’d intended to spend tomorrow night, so for the first time in our traveling history, we’re on track with our itinerary but a whole day ahead of schedule! Today’s total: 406 miles, quite a lot when pulling a trailer and on some rough road.

Bob felt enormously better today, was able to drop the heavy-duty painkillers, and thus was able to get back in the driver’s seat of the truck again – yippeee!